Thursday, April 4, 2013

Works in progress

I like "works in progress" so much more than "unfinished work" or in some cases "work not yet started."  Anyway, I've heard that the public shaming aspect of the internet can be helpful in keeping people on track and on their toes, so I will list various projects in various stages of completion to see if it motivates me to get any of them done (and remind me not to spend so much time on the internet -- a bit of a paradox, whut!?!).  In truth, while the blogging can be a bit of a time drain, it is useful in the sense that it has gotten my "writing muscles" back in shape, which in turn makes it more likely that I will actually return to work on these projects, esp. as they are mostly writing based.  I'll list them basically in order of how close to completion they are (and not chronologically, i.e. when I started the projects -- that would be far too depressing!).

Actually, before I get started, I should list some things that I have actually completed, so this post doesn't become a total downer.  It will also give me a bit of inspiration to believe that I can cross off many of these projects once I am ready to be serious about them.  Time is always an issue, but sometimes lacking inspiration is a bigger problem...

First, my work accomplishments:
  • I have contributed a great deal to advanced transportation models in New York City, Columbus, OH, and Houston in particular.  
  • I have co-written 10 papers on modelling and transportation policy for Transportation Research Record and the Journal of Public Transportation.  
  • I am so very close to completing the upgrade of the Vancouver Regional Transportation Model.  While it isn't a particularly advanced model (still a 4-step model) it is so much better than what was here before.  And it has my fingerprints on every component, and this will be the case for roughly the next decade.  I have been working overtime on this for months and certainly is the main focus of my energies.
I am reasonably involved with my children, and they seem to be growing up to be decent people.  They seem to be doing quite well in school and are both becoming avid readers.

I completed my dissertation in sociology at Northwestern University, even though it wasn't strictly necessary for my chosen profession (my Master's in transportation has always been sufficient).

I had a chapter on Johannesburg and its suburbs published in an edited volume on comparative suburbanization outside the U.S.  This felt like a particularly sweet accomplishment, and I think it is a really strong piece (one of the stronger ones in the collection).  Not being in academia, and particularly not on the hunt for tenure, allows me to spend more time on the projects that I do undertake.

I self-published a poetry chapbook and placed 5 or 6 poems in small literary magazines.  This was right after college but before I decided that being a poet and trying to teach in a MFA program somewhere wasn't really what I wanted to do with my life...

I have actually written two full-length plays (and 4 or so shorter theatre pieces), though I have them down as works-in-progress, since they still need heavy editing.  Still, I got them over the finish line in the first place, which was quite an accomplishment.

Ok, enough patting myself on the back.  What have I left undone?

1) Poetry anthology on the topic of transportation
     Status: two sections sent in to a publisher with 85% of the rest of the anthology complete.
     Notes: this was the main project I worked on this past summer.  I could definitely whip it into shape in maybe 2-3 weeks if the publisher expressed interest.  If they decide to pass, I will have to think seriously about how hard I want to shop this to other publishers. In fact, the anthology began life as a subway poetry anthology that I shopped around with a few nibbles but no takers.  I think this has slight broader appeal, but publishers are still wary of anthologies where they don't have 100% control over the publishing rights from the outset.

2) "No More Robinsons" - a SF short story
     Status: nearly the entire story has been written out except the ending, though most still needs to be typed up.
     Notes: this really shouldn't take that much more time, though I am worried that the ending I am heading to is not strong enough.

3) "Dharma Donuts" - a play
     Status: 2nd draft of the entire play was completed but some revisions still required.  Some sections have have a staged reading.
     Notes: I think I can manage to get through the edits this summer.  I have had a bit of useful feedback on the play.

4) "Final Exams" - a SF short story about the Earth after a Borg-like alien presence arrives on the scene
     Status: the plot mostly worked out and a few pages were typed up
     Notes: in some ways, I think this would be a bit easier to sell to a SF magazine than the Robinson story, so perhaps I will work on it next.  The idea came to me while I was biking back and forth from work, and that still is where I do some of my most useful brain-storming. 

5) "Corporate Codes of Conduct" - a play
     Status: 3rd draft of the entire play completed but some significant revisions to second act required.  The 1st draft received a table read, which I taped for reference.
     Notes: I think this is a good play, but it is hard to get motivated to put in the time to work on it when it is all but impossible to stage works by unknown authors, esp. those that can't be marketed as the next fresh young voice!  I will write about that below.  The play was loosely inspired by Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and to a lesser extent David Auburn's Proof.   One thing that may help me make these necessary changes is that I am making a day trip soon to SF to catch a revival of Arcadia.  There is also a company in Seattle that would be a natural fit to put on Corporate Codes, but that is basically just wishful thinking on my part.

6) Dark Heart of the Moon - SF novel with some mystery elements.
     Status: large section typed up (maybe 25-30 pages worth) and much of the plot was worked out but some changes are required.  I am doing some plotting out of potential sequels.
     Notes: I think this needs a better title.  I also need to see if the writing style still holds up.  I am a bit torn because the more realistic I make it (as well as laying down the seeds for the plots of sequels), the smaller the lunar colony has to be, which in turn undermines some of the other elements that I have already written.  I think I am getting closer to being able to thread the needle, but I have to put more and more power into the hands of the shadowy figure who started the colony, and I don't want it to get to the point it is ridiculous a la Dr. Mabuse.

7) "Northern Latitudes" - a novel about Toronto and the misadventures of an American who wants to live there but has no appreciable skills    
     Status: the first chapter and part of ending written out.  I have extensive notes on the entire plot and have even given some consideration to potential follow-up novels.
     Notes: this has been a novel-in-progress for a ridiculous length of time -- close to 20 years.  It basically is a historical novel now, since it really does need to be set in 1994-95. I certainly do need to go through and make sure I want to write in the style that I started out writing in -- if I can even maintain that.  I did recently come across all my journal articles and email from the period I lived in Toronto and right afterwards.  That might prove to be helpful.  It is too bad that MacLean's doesn't have its back issues on DVD, but I can go to the library (perhaps this summer) and skim through the relevant months.  This is probably the project that means the most to me to finish up, but one which must be blocked in some way or I would have tackled it more seriously in the past 20 years.  Perhaps the fact that I am on the verge of moving back there (to Toronto) will actually inspire me to cross the finish line, not completely unlike how moving back to Chicago was the motivating factor to finally finish the dissertation.  When I feel the first chapter is ready for sharing, I will link to it.

8) Turning my dissertation into a book on Chicago transportation
     Status: I have an entire 500+ page dissertation complete, but published books are very different things from dissertations.
     Notes: I have basically stayed on top of major Chicago transportation controversies, but I would have to do some research to keep the chapters up-to-date, and I would probably have to arrange interviews with more people, which I am not particularly eager to do.  Also, I might end up at a company that would frown on such a book if it is too critical of the Chicago powers-that-be.

9) Article on the (unbuilt) Chicago Crosstown Expressway
     Status: a paper that made it to revise and resubmit status at the Journal of Urban History.
     Notes: this is horribly embarrassing, but because I went on leave, I never got around to dealing with this R&R paper (from roughly 15 years back).  I would basically have to swallow my pride and start over from scratch at that journal or even send it somewhere else.  It would have been 3 or 4 weeks' worth of work back then, but now I'd have to really refresh my memory before I tried to fix it, and I would probably extend the time frame of the analysis (to justify why they should re-consider it after I dropped the ball so badly).

10) "Lester's Last Testament" - a play (heavily) inspired by King Lear.
      Status: I have 3 or 4 pages written and the rest is only partly plotted out (though it does follow Lear/Ran fairly closely).
      Notes: Just not really sure the world needs another adaptation of Shakespeare, though two that I have seen were brilliant.  Also, it is really hard to justify spending time writing for the theatre when there is just so little pay-off.  But now and again, I am really drawn to work on this and can visualize the characters having their conversations.  As they say, when the Muse comes knocking, you really have to answer the door -- or she will refuse to come around anymore.  I imagine it will be the last thing I ever write for the theatre.

11)  Writing an academic book on Toronto, Johannesburg and Shanghai
     Status: mostly a handful of Powerpoint presentations made at various conferences.
     Notes: while this could be really interesting (and I recently thought of ways to make this a more doable project), I'm just not sure the world needs such a book.

12) Writing an academic book on transportation infrastructure
     Status: several conference papers on the topic and a lot of background knowledge.
     Notes: this came pretty close to happening with a co-author, but neither of us could really devote the time to getting an outline just right to get approval from a publishing house.  I think I would really have to demonstrate (to my co-author as well as myself) that I could handle the deadlines and my job, and I am not sure that is true.  Nonetheless, I sense this book would be more important in some ways than the one on Toronto, Johannesburg and Shanghai.

13) Writing an academic article on African suburbanization
     Status: a couple of conference papers and a lot of background research already completed.
     Notes: I might actually submit a variant of this to an upcoming conference.  The real Achilles heel is not having quite enough data that is truly comparable across the cases, so it might not be worth it.

14) Writing an academic article on "non-events"
     Status: a conference paper was written and part of the intro to my dissertation discussed this issue.
     Notes: my advisor wanted to do this but then kept flaking out, even after I sent him an outline and the introduction.  That was quite disheartening.  I think if he were a more typical (and organized) academic, we would have polished this off a few year's back.

15) Article on Crosstown and Westway
     Status: the Crosstown parts have been written up, but I would have to draw comparisons to the Westway.
     Notes: I have gathered virtually all the data there is to be gathered on the two unbuilt projects.  It would be a shame if no one ever benefited from my extensive research and digging through archives, but that happens sometimes.

16) Writing an academic article on the importance of studying regionalism in a meaningful way.
     Status: some material from the intro. to my dissertation
     Notes: this might be fun and even a bit provocative.  I don't really have anything to lose, so I may write this up one day (or simply take the more interesting observations and post them here).

17) Writing academic article about trust and youth hostelers
     Status: a conference paper, as well as some graduate student papers written on the topic.
     Notes: I think the sun has set on this one.  I simply don't see it as important anymore.  Worst of all, I never managed to get back in touch with the youth hostels where I had done a follow-up survey (almost 5 years on now) and I would have to provide them with this fairly out-of-date (for their purposes) data before I could even feel right about publishing a paper using the survey data.  So hard to see this happening.

18) Writing academic article on casino impacts
      Status: a conference paper was presented
      Notes: Not sure I can ever get the data to the level I would like.  We found that the data on impacts was just so hard to make heads or tails of, because the gambling population is so dispersed, with many people traveling from several counties away to gamble and even crossing state lines in many cases.  This is almost certainly a dead project.

At one point I wanted to write more about environmental justice and transportation, but it isn't that compelling to me any more.

I think the biggest issue I face is that the projects that I tend to believe I really ought to pursue are the ones that are 1) the hardest to complete or 2) have almost no pay-off, monetary or otherwise, because the acceptance rates are so low.  Writing plays is in many ways far more pointless than writing novels, since the chances of finding a publisher for a novel (slim as they are) are so much better than finding a theatre company that will stage one's play.  As I ponder this (reasonably complete) list of work that I still might complete one day, I really need to take that into consideration.  I also need to weigh the fact that my job is quite demanding (I almost always work more than 40 hours in a week, generally 50+) and that virtually none of these projects will gain me recognition at work -- and in some cases might be viewed negatively.  I probably will continue to refocus on the creative writing over the academic writing.  But I think the main thing is to try to set aside some time each week to work on one of the projects and eventually cross one or two off the list, so that they may be added to the list of accomplishments.

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